HYDE PARK — A bookstore focused on Black liberation and community education is in imminent danger of being forced to leave its Hyde Park storefront after 17 years.
Frontline Books and Crafts has only a week or two to sell enough inventory and raise funds to remain at 5206 S. Harper Ave. on a month-to-month basis, founder Sekou Tafari said. With business slowing and costs increasing, the store has fallen a few months behind on rent and could be evicted.
Tafari wants to sustain the Harper Avenue storefront through sales, he said. There is a 15 percent sale on every item in the store, and staff will prepare book bundles to be sold at a discount.
A GoFundMe also aims to raise $50,000 to keep the bookstore afloat.
Frontline got its start more than 30 years ago, publishing books and distributing titles by British authors to local Black bookstores after Tafari moved to Chicago from London. The shop sells books on Pan-Africanism, the Rastafari movement, Black history, metaphysics and more.
The bookstore moved to Hyde Park from 75th Street and Cottage Grove Avenue in 2004.
Following the move, Frontline’s monthly rent was about $900, Tafari said. The storefront has expanded since its initial lease, though, and its rent has increased, he said.
“It’s a free market, an open market,” Tafari said. “This kind of stuff is going to happen. If you can’t pay, you’re going to leave. That is how capitalism works.”
The shop has suffered from dwindling foot traffic during much of the pandemic.
Like other Black-owned bookstores and businesses, Frontline got a boost as the movement for Black lives drew significant attention to oppression and Black empowerment. People bought books like “The Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey” and “Decolonising the African Mind” en masse while these topics dominated the national conversation, Tafari said.
But sales have slowed dramatically since then, and it’s become “a critical situation” for the store over the past few months, he said.
Tafari is doing everything he can “to not leave Hyde Park — and to not leave this space, because it has a long history,” he said.
Frontline is the latest in a string of Black bookstores that have operated out of the storefront at 52nd and Harper, dating back more than three decades. The Freedom Found, Reading Room and Underground bookstores — the latter of which now operates at 1727 E. 87th St. – preceded Frontline.
Black bookstores — or “truebraries,” as “no lies” are found there — play a critical role in teaching community members about themselves and their history, Tafari said.
Growing up in the Caribbean, Tafari would read Eldridge Cleaver’s “Soul on Ice,” Bobby Seale’s “Seize the Time” and other Black power classics cover-to-cover in his local bookstore before buying a copy of his own.
In addition to the books, Frontline, Underground and similar storefronts provide “a service where people can come, merge, gather and have discussions” on topics that affect them, Tafari said.
If Frontline leaves Hyde Park, “we would miss that part, because we love being part of our community,” he said. “We are an integral part of our community — we love our Black community.”
Only the Harper Avenue storefront is at risk of closing for now. Frontline Books & Kultural Emporium at 6357 S. Cottage Grove Ave. in Woodlawn will remain open. That location is “trying to keep its head above water, but it also needs help,” Tafari said.
The Frontline publishing house “will continue to put out progressive and positive books,” Tafari said — including “Conversations with White People,” a “very strong title” on race relations set for release in November.
To purchase books through Frontline’s website, click here. The Harper Avenue storefront is open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. daily.
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